There’s a scene in You’ve Got Mail, where Meg Ryan’s character waxes poetic about how lovely September is. Something about the crispness of the air and the colors of the leaves brings her happiness. The one bit of narrative description that always has stuck with me though, is the “smell of freshly sharpened pencils.” And while we start school in August rather than September, there’s something about that particular description that resonates with me. After a summer of a more relaxed attitude toward our daily lives (pj’s until after lunch, anyone?), I find myself eager to get back to our daily school routine in the little schoolroom in our basement. The UPS truck is making almost daily stops at our house delivering new curriculum, and even though they are textbooks, I find myself a little thrilled opening packages of books. The shiny covers that aren’t worn from use, the pages that aren’t dog-eared or wrinkled, the smell of fresh ink on paper – these cause a bit of excitement in me. Even my children, who aren’t quite as eager as I to get back to school, want to be the ones to open the boxes as they arrive.
In some ways, too, we all miss the certainty of our routine. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love to wake up on summer mornings, head out for a run, and then come home to do, well, what I want to do rather than what I have to do. Granted, what I want to do might include canning loads of tomato salsa, or scrubbing baseboards, sorting all the outgrown clothing out of closets, etc…, but still… if I don’t really want to do it, I don’t have to. If I want to lay on my bed, read In Style magazine so that I can see once again that yes, I am hopelessly out of style (who can really afford a $170 pair of jeans in the real world?), I will. If I want to watch Colin Firth portray Mr. Darcy slowly sweeping Elizabeth Bennet off her feet for the umpteenth time, I can. At some point in the summer though, I start to get anxious that I’m not really doing anything. Or, at least, anything that really matters. Confession here: I am a project junkie. Just like my father. I can always find something that needs to be done. Or fixed. Or… something. Curtains to be sewn, eaves to be painted, branches to be pruned, and the list goes on and on… And I think that’s why I almost start craving the routine of school. Now, this is going to sound weird, but in some way, being in our schoolroom and the day to day-ness of it relieves me of having to do those other things. In the summer, if I don’t finish painting the porch, it’s always looming over my head. But when school’s in session, well, getting through a school-day is just soooo much more important that the porch project is practically trivial!
My kids too, even though they may say otherwise, are a little bit happy to get back to the daily business of learning. My son is tired of mowing the lawn, and my daughter tired of babysitting every weekend. Certainly they like sleeping late, and changing out their pajamas after breakfast, instead of before. They like visiting cousins, having lemonade stands, and Boy Scout campouts galore. But they’ve also seen – and touched, and smelled – the new books too. They’re looking forward to the read-alouds we do most mornings. They’re looking forward to using their brains and the feeling that comes from knowing they understand something a little more complicated or sophisticated than last year’s work. Whether they want to admit it or not, a new grade is just one step closer to them becoming what they most desire – being grown up. The daily math lessons? Not so much. But knowing that getting through those lessons means being one step closer to the rest of their lives? Well, that’s a routine that’s worth it.Oh, and yes… I did get my porch painted. So now I can attack school with gusto! Whew!